On May 27th 2017, a rubber boat with 127 people on board arrived to Zarzis (Tunisia) coming from Libya. The fuel finished after few hours of navigation and for two and a half days they drifted out into the open sea, without eating or drinking. A Tunisian fisherman's boat saw them and alerted the Tunisian Coast Guard who finally rescued them.
The migrants were transfered to the foyer of the Tunisian Res Crescent in Medenine, supported by MSF.
Joy spent three months in a private prison, guarded by gangsters. Some "Hamza boys", as they were called, had stopped the truck carrying them across Libya. Together with the others imprisoned she was beaten and tortured, waiting for her family to raise enough money to pay the ransom. She saw people being killed in Tripoli, and finally she could escape. Fortune followed the same route, they both met in the rubber boat rescued on May 27th in Zarzis and are now living in the Tunisian Red Crescent foyer in Medenine.
"Libya is madness, there are 10-year-old kids with AK 47's"
"I came to Libya to work, not to go to Europe. I was told that Libya was good for the job. But the police stole my money and my cell phone. Then they put me in jail and they beat me and shocked me with electricity. I had to pay to go out. My family saved me. Others perished in prison because of tortures. So I decided to go to Europe. Libya is madness, there are 10-year-old kids with AK 47's. Two black friends were killed for nothing, just like that. It's very dangerous there. It is a big risk, but I will try again. In Nigeria, I have nothing."
Ben was in the rubber boat rescued on May 27th in Zarzis.
"We can not go back to Libya or return to Nigeria."
"It was believed that Libya was a great and good country. No. They even fired on our boat. We can not go back to Libya or return to Nigeria. We have nothing. We're stuck here for months, doing nothing. I'm a very good soccer player, but with corruption in Nigeria, it's impossible to make a career".
Soulayem was also on the boat that arrived in Zarzis on the 27th May, he is now living in the foyer of the Tunisian Red Crescent in Medenine. Despite the hard experiences he has been through, he is still willing to go through the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.
He is portrayed after coming back from work, where he gained 20 DNT (7 €) for 8 hard working hours on a building site.
"Gangsters stops the vehicle with the migrants, they put them in prison, beat and torture them until the family sends the ransom."
"My wife asks me to go back, but at the same time she does not want me to go back because she would be ashamed of me, she misses me but to go back is wrong. I am obliged to go through Libya again, risking to be kidnapped, like the last time. Gangsters stops the vehicle with the migrants, they put them in prison, beat and torture them until the family sends the ransom. If the family is too slow in picking up the money, you risk dying from exhaustion because of the torture and lack of food. But the shame of return is greater than my fear."
"Many of them try to return to Libya to resume the road of death to Europe. For certain, after leaving their countries by investing all their financial and emotional resources ... the return becomes a difficult choice ..."
Monia Ben Taleb: "They are desperate. There are some who have tried to return to Libya, who have lived through the same horrible sufferings, and who still say that they are going back there to try to go to Europe. The explanation is that if you leave your home, if you embark on this difficult journey through the desert with so many life-threatening, if you have invested so much emotionally and financially, you can not go back. They have lost everything. So they have nothing else to lose except they own value."
A four-floor building called "La Poudrière", is where migrants rent rooms in Sfax, they are mostly Ivorians and Nigerians, but also Cameroonians, Chanaians, etc. They are 4 or 5 in a room as the rent is priced much higher than normal. They work in irregular jobs to survive, for 12 to 20 dinars (4 to 7 euros) per day and the room costs 120 dinars (45 euros) per month.
"The smugglers made me believe that life is better in Tunisia. If it's not right here, I have to go ahead, towards Europe. In Côte d'Ivoire, there are not even the odd jobs we do here unless you're boosted, you have to pay to start a job or belong to the ruling ethnic group and have the right contacts".
Banessi Abdessalem, together with two Egyptians colleagues, wanted to flee to Italy but the Tunisian coast guards stopped their boat. Now it has been 9 months that the boat is blocked in the port of Sfax and they can not leave the port as they are fined for sailing in Tunisian territorial waters. The three Egyptians work now on other boats to get some money to survive as they don't have right to anything. MSF visits them to provide care, hygiene and cleaning products.
"I'm touched when patients tell me things like 'you give me only tablets.. but we don't have water to swallow them' or 'It's more your smile that heals us'".
Le Cimetière des Inconnus, where fourty four unknown migrants and refugees are buried. They wanted to join Italy from Libya, they were all shipwrecked.. Their bodies, often decomposed, have arrived on the Tunisian coast, near Libya, or discovered by fishermen. Chemseddine Marzoug, 52, volunteer of the Tunisian Red Crescent, gives them a burial. 'Their souls must rest,' said Marzoug. With the support of a few other civilians they clean the bodies before burying them. The cemetery is almost full.
Fatuma Bourguiba is a public hospital in Monastir where MSF directs migrants towards the hospital services for chronic diseases.
She was found by the National Tunisian Guard in the desert close to Ben Guerdane, near the border to Libya where she was heading for. She was left to Ben Guerdane Hospital, that contacted MSF afterwards and MSF decided to transfer her to Monastir.
Issa was on the rubber boat rescued by Tunisan coastguards in Zarzis on the 27th May, after being in the sea for two days and a half when the fuel finished after few hours of navigation. He was transferred to Monastir for appropriate cares. In a week he will return to Medenine. After spending two and a half months in the hospital his conditions have improved a lot. He was very skinny when he arrived and he used to sleep 18 hours a day during the first days he was in the hospital.
Marie was also on the rubber boat rescued in Zarzis on the 27th May. She was pregnant when she left Libya with 127 people on a boat who drifted out into the open sea, without eating or drinking for two and a half days.
She delivered her daughter Destiny safely and in good conditions in Fatuma Bourguiba Hospital, where MSF transferred her a couple of days before.
La Marsa is a Maison des Jeunes where thirty five migrants live. Most of them spent almost seven years in the camp of Choucha, in Southern Tunisia, on the Libyan border, in terrible conditions. MSF was the last humanitarian organisation present in the Choucha camp. UNHCR left the camp in 2013 and considered it as "closed" from then.
Several organizations are asking Tunisia to adopt a legal framework for asylum seekers and refugees protection. They are also asking UN to reconsider the asylum claims of these 35 refugees. Only four of them have valid refugee status claims, according to IOM. But the promises of housing and work by Tunisia have not taken shape. All 35 fled the Libyan War in 2011.
"My dreams are weeping, my dreams are crying. I spent seven years in the camps"
"Several times I begged to be able to take the bus to Tunis to talk with the UN. But they left me outside, telling me that I must speak with the Tunisian authorities who told me in their turn that it is a problem of the UN. I belong to the Akwamu ethnic group, which is in conflict with the Adangmés in Ghana".
"In 2000 I left Darfur because of the war. I did not have a destination; some people went to Chad, Central African Republic, me to Libya."
"Until 2011 I could stay there. But after a month of Libyan war, it was necessary to flee again. The IOM has sent us to Choucha camp and I stayed there until the dismantling of the camp by the soldiers on June 19, 2017. The living conditions at Choucha were very difficult, but going back to Darfur is impossible. The Sudanese regime considers those who remained abroad as opponents who help the rebels financially. One risks prison, torture, even death. I did not try to go to Libya to go to Europe, like many others. But the only proposal I get here is the voluntary return to Sudan. I can not stand it anymore. The only thing I want to know now is who I have to apply for asylum, IOM and UNHCR only speak of voluntary return. It's been 18 months since I saw my mother and my three brothers, but I can not go back, I risk my life. I have a chronic heart disease, thankfully MSF is taking care of my medicines. Otherwise I would die."